Parting Glances: How's Your Pomp, Mary?

By Charles Alexander

"As the President of the United States holds the highest official rank in political life, so he is also by virtue of that office, awarded precedence in social life. He may be addressed as Mr. President or Your Excellency."

Your Ex-cel-len-cy! Says who?

So says "A Guide to the Manners, Etiquette, and Deportment of the Most Refined Society," an 1879 best seller devoted to rules that "make social intercourse more agreeable, and facilitate hospitalities, when all members of society hold them as binding and faithfully regard their observance." Indeed. Social intercourse! How agreeable.

"Guide" - written by manners maven John H. Young and dating to the election of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes - is still a useful springboard (or pirate's plank) for establishing and maintaining pomp and circumstance in the White House.

Should you be invited to meet President Obama on Inaugural Day, keep these suggestions in mind. (Predicted attendance is reported to be somewhat down this year from the president's previous inaugural, and there are efforts ongoing to raise $1 million to stage events.)

Of Refined Interest #1: (Prospective Visitors): "If the caller has no business, but goes out of curiosity, he pays his respects and withdraws to make room for others. It is better in making a private call, to secure the company of some official or some friend of the President to introduce you."

Item #2 (Proper Attire): "At the New-Year's receptions, the most ceremonious occasion of the executive mansion, it is the custom of the ladies who attend to appear in the most elegant toilets suited to a morning reception." (Note: Toilet is fashionable attire. GOP men's room stalls back then were gaily festooned in red, white, and wide-stance blue.)

Social arbiter Young offers a caveat: "In this country, where everybody possess one and the same title, that of a citizen of this Republic, no one can claim a superiority of rank and title" (Update: unless he or she is a fundygelical Christian, a Tea Party groupie, or a member of the WestHorror Baptist Church, but not necessarily in that order of spiritual or political obsession.)

The Guide's protocol rules -- originally applicable to the Queen of England and the Court of St. James - just might add a glow-in-the-dark aura to the excellency presidential kiss-kiss and offer a panoply of elbow-rubbing possibilities. To wit, with a courtly courtesy. God save the queens!

"The person to be presented to the President must provide himself or herself with a court costume, which for men consists partly of knee-breeches and hose for women of an ample court train." (And keep your seams, er, straight, girls.)

"Those of more democratic professions, such as solicitors, merchants and mechanics, have not as a rule that right of White House presentation, though wealth and connection have recently proved an Open Sesame." (To Wall Street, no doubt.)

Question for research: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Was Ali an Open Sesame Democrat or a Theocratic Rebiblican? More to the point: could he socially tell a pickle fork from a pitch fork? (And use it?)

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